Idioms Gallery
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Language Gallery by Sharon Hahn Darlin

Jul 7, 2010

三人成虎 "truth" in numbers

三 (three) 人 (people) 成 (attain) 虎 (tiger)

Do you remember this Psych 101 conformity experiment? You are shown 4 bars, and you're asked which among the three bars on the right corresponds most closely with the single bar on the left. First, you confidently answer A. When one of your classmates says it's B instead, you think, "he's crazy." When another one answers B again, you pause. When yet another answers B, you start doubting yourself. Then the entire class answers B, and you find it difficult to dispute unanimity. Even when the answer seems crystal clear.

In the story of 三人成虎, there was no tiger. Once upon a time, a worried adviser asked his gullible king whether he would believe it if someone told him a tiger walked into the market. Of course not, the king answered, there are no tigers around here. Well, all it took to sway him was three persuasive fibbers.

Will you be able to resist the truth in numbers?

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